DEAF PEOPLE AND VISUAL COMMUNICATION
Human beings are social animals who communicate with each
other almost constantly
through sounds and movements. From the moment we are born, we are engaged in the
learning and use of one or more complex languages. This imperative to employ
language is deeply embedded in our genetic heritage. If two infants are placed
together in isolation, they will begin to create their own language. So
fundamental is the need to maintain communication with others that one of the
most severe punishments we can inflict is solitary confinement.
Language is most often conveyed via speech and hearing, but we can just as
readily use gesture and sight. Native Americans, for example, created relatively
complex gesture languages for intertribal communication as well as for ritual
use. Australian aborigines developed sign languages for use when speech was
ritually taboo, such as during mourning periods for women or initiation
ceremonies for men. Some linguists theorize that humans communicated via gesture
for thousands of years before they developed speech.
In this 1907 school photograph, students and their teacher pose
for the camera.
All but two of the boys (first row, right) are able to be still
for the seconds the
shutter is snapped. Their signing to each other is captured
and produces a
double image. (Gallaudet University Archives, #13747-18,
from the Alice Teegarden Album.)